‘Gifted’ in education can mean persistence

Scott Barry Kaufman's new book "UnGifted" combines his research in cognitive development with a belief that the "gifted" label leaves much to be desired.
Scott Barry Kaufman’s new book “UnGifted” combines his research in cognitive development with a belief that the “gifted” label leaves much to be desired.

After being rejected from Carnegie Mellon University’s cognitive science program due to his SAT scores, Scott Barry Kaufman was determined to prove he had the intellectual chops to excel. He gained admittance to the music program and eventually transferred to the science program he had dreamed of all along. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2003 and later received a master’s at Cambridge as well as a doctorate from Yale.

So why did the SAT determine that he didn’t have the mental chops? In his latest book, “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” Kaufman attempts to get to the bottom of that question — for himself, and students everywhere who find themselves falling through the cracks.

“I think education has got to get out of the business of trying to judge a person’s potential. It’s just not something we can capture at any one moment in time,” says Kaufman. “We’re really stuck in a false model of giftedness, where you’re either born gifted and you will stay that way the rest of your life, or you’re not and you won’t ever be. That’s just not in line with current research on human development.”

“Ungifted” traces Kaufman’s unique mental maturation: He suffered severe ear infections that left him with an auditory disorder in elementary school, which led to a special education classification that he had a difficult time shaking off. Woven into his personal narrative is his own research on cognitive development as well as an analysis of the major breakthroughs in his field.

“What we think of as an ordinary mind has a lot more capacity than most people realize. If you trace the development of minds that we label gifted or genius, you see a rapid development, but there’s also this engagement and passion aspect that gets overlooked,” says Kaufman. “If we find something we’re driven to engage in day after day, hour after hour, any of us can demonstrate the kind of behavior that society labels as gifted.”


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